Tuesday, 4 December, 4.00-5 pm: Jaap Kamphuis

Verbal aspect in Old Church Slavonic

Venue: Van Eyckhof 2, room 3

The verbal systems of modern Slavic languages are characterized by an important dichotomy between perfective and imperfective verbs, which is encoded morphologically. To illustrate the functions of perfective and imperfective verbs, often Russian examples are used. However, in the past decades it has becomes more and more clear that there is large variation between the various modern Slavic languages when it comes to the functions of verbal aspect.

Old Church Slavonic, as the oldest attested Slavic language, attested in a period only a few centuries after the break-up of Proto-Slavic, can give us an idea of the system this variation comes from, and thus of the direction in which the various modern Slavic languages have developed this system.

The first question that needs to be answered is whether there is a verbal aspect system similar to the modern aspect systems in Old Church Slavonic, and if so, what its functions are. And only when these questions are answered, can the bigger questions be asked: do we find clues in Old Church Slavonic as to the source of verbal aspect in Slavic and does the stage of development of the Old Church Slavonic aspect system give us any information as to where the variation in modern Slavic comes from?

The first results of the research show that in Old Church Slavonic there is indeed a system similar to the modern Slavic languages.  One striking difference is that the link between various contexts or functions and aspect is not as strong as in the modern Slavic languages. Furthermore, a considerable part of the verbal system does not seem to partake in the aspect opposition, which is deviating from the general image that aspect in Slavic is a dichotomy which encompasses the entire system.

In my talk I will briefly introduce Slavic verbal aspect and the results of comparative aspect research in modern Slavic languages. Then I move on to verbal aspect in Old Church Slavonic and finally I will touch upon questions of the origin of verbal aspect in Slavic and the possible consequences of my findings in Old Church Slavonic for the research of verbal aspect in modern Slavic languages.